Nassim (Nicholas) Taleb is far and away my favorite thinker living today. His “Incerto” (Latin for “uncertainty,” it consists of the body of his work) has changed my life more profoundly than any author (except maybe Nietzsche or Seneca).
He recently released, for free, a new work-in-progress currently titled “More Aphorisms, Maxims, and Heuristics.” Below you will find 44 of my favorites.
1. What counts is not what people say about you, it is how much energy they spend saying it.
2. If something looks irrational – and has been so for a long time – odds are you have a wrong definition of rationality.
3. Never take investment advice from someone who has to work for a living.
4. Being an entrepreneur is an existential, not just a financial thing.
5. The first one who uses “but” has lost the argument.
6. Virtue is sequence of small acts of omission. Honor and Grandeur can be a single gutsy, momentous, and self-sacrificial act of commission.
7. To be a person of virtue you need to be boringly virtuous in every single small action. To be a person of honor all you need is be honorable in a few important things (say risk your life or career or reputation for a just cause, or live up to your word when nobody else has guts to do so, etc.)
8. To understand how something works, figure out how to break it.
9. Bring the good news in trickles, the bad news in lumps.
10. It takes a lot of skills to be virtuous without being boring.
11. Atheists are just modern versions of religious fundamentalists: they both take religion too literally.
12. High Modernity: routine in place of physical effort, physical effort in place of mental expenditure, and mental expenditure in place of mental clarity.
13. It is a sign of weakness to avoid showing signs of weakness.
14. Life is about execution rather than purpose.
15. The general principle of antifragility: it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.
16. The ultimate freedom lies in not having to explain “why” you did something.
17. Life is about the early detection of the reversal point beyond which belongings (say a house, country house, car, or business) start owning you.
18. The first, and hardest, step to wisdom: avert the standard assumption that people know what they want.
19. If someone is making an effort to ignore you, he is not ignoring you.
20. A good man is warm and respectful towards the waiter or people of lower financial and social condition.
21. When someone starts a sentence with the first half containing “I,” “not” and “but,” the “not” should be removed and the “but” replaced with “therefore.”
22. Journalists cannot grasp that what is interesting is not necessarily important; most cannot even grasp that what is sensational is not necessarily interesting.
23. Injuries done to us by others tend to be acute; the self-inflicted ones tend to be chronic.
24. We often benefit from harm done to us by others; almost never from self-inflicted injuries.
25. For a free person, the optimal – most opportunistic – route between two points should never be the shortest one.
26. Just as eating cow-meat doesn’t turn you into a cow, studying philosophy doesn’t make you wiser.
27. If the professor is not capable of giving a class without preparation, don’t attend. People should only teach what they have learned organically, through experience and curiosity…or get another job.
28. Mistakes detected by copy editors are not likely to be noticed by readers, and vice versa.
29. Accept the rationality of time, never its fairness and morality.
30. Did you notice that collecting art is to hobby-painting as watching pornography is to doing the real thing? Only difference is status.
31. Real life (vita beata) is when your choices correspond to your duties.
32. If you detect a repressed smile on the salesperson’s face, you paid too much for it.
33. Polemic is a lucrative form of entertainment, as the media can employ unpaid and fiercely motivated actors.
34. France took Algeria, hoping for a country to eat coussoulet and instead France is now eating couscous. Inverse effects are the norm.
35. In a conflict, the middle ground is the least likely to be correct.
36. The ancient Mediterranean: people changed rites as we do with ethnic food.
37. Risk takers never complain. They do.
38. You are as good as how nice you are to people you don’t have to be nice to.
39. Intellect without balls is like a race car without tires.
40. We tend to define “rude” less by the words used (what is said) than by the status of the recipient (to whom it is addressed).
41. Studying neurobiology to understand humans is like studying ink to understand literature.
42. The only people who think that real world experience doesn’t matter are those who never had real world experience.
43. Automation makes otherwise pleasant activities turn into “work.”
44. Much of the difference between what is heaven and what is hell is branding.